by Mother M. Angelica
A sacrament is a visible sign of an invisible reality. Matrimony is a sacrament and as such it is a sign to the world of the invisible God living in our midst—the living God who bears fruit in the lives of two people. They are a continual sign of His Power in the world. There is special grace and power within every couple God has joined together. Everything they do singly or together, is a living out of their sacrament. Simple things like washing dishes, running a sweeper, driving to work, struggling to make a living, budgeting a small salary to meet big expenses—yes, these and al I the other facets of life together, have power hidden within them to make them holy. Married life is the ground of holiness, love is the seed planted by God. Life together with its agonies and joys, pain and sacrifices, frustrations and tensions, moments of exultation and despair, all act as the rain and sun, thunder and lightning on a young sprout.
The faults and weaknesses of each one are compensated for by each other's virtues. Each possesses what the other lacks. This results in a loving dependence on each other for spiritual growth and transformation. If a married couple can form a habit of looking at each other in a sacramental way—seeing the beauty of God in each other's souls—seeking to enhance that beauty by upbuilding each other—mutually growing in the image of Jesus—then that Sacrament of Matrimony bears the stamp of the living God.
Temperaments that could create many problems are looked upon as stepping stones to holiness—tools in their hands that chip away selfishness, sensitivity, anger, jealousy and greed. When personal growth in self-knowledge leads to the "putting on of Jesus," married life fulfills the purpose for which it was created.
When growth in the image of Jesus is the goal of a young couple, the faults and imperfections that soon begin to grind are taken in hand and used to build and not destroy. If one partner is gentle and the other hot-tempered it is obvious that each possesses what the other needs. For example, one whose temper has a short fuse has before him a living example of the gentleness of Jesus. If that gentleness is looked upon as a fruit that is good to possess then each partner will aid the other in their mutual ascent to God. Differences of temperament may make for incompatibility in a divorce court, but before God those differences are tools that shape and reshape each other's souls into the image of God.
Family life is the backbone of mankind and that life is dependent upon mutual giving, sharing and receiving from each other. It entails the proper use of each other's successes and failures for mutual up-building. The brick and mortar stage of any building is not beautiful, but without it no permanent building is possible. Pieces of wood and boxes of nails are a far cry from a beautiful finished cabinet, but those pieces of wood are the cabinet—those loose bricks, bonded together, are the building. So it is with a married couple: everyday frustrations—grinding faults, worries and tensions, success and failure all make up and build that beautiful edifice of family life and living. Though all seems fruitless and without purpose; though day to day endurance succeeds in tying us down to hum-drum living; though boredom takes hold of our hearts with an icy hand; God's providence counts every tear, picks up every scrap and washes away every failure. We may think all is lost, or we have failed, but if we could see ourselves In His Eyes we would see the wisdom of His Will. If we would cooperate with Him and try to bring good out of every evil, we would be more aware of our soul changing, our faith growing stronger, our hope more secure and our love deepening. We would see the Spirit working in every facet of life, be it ever so painful.
This Living Sacrament should be looked upon with a sense of devotion for each other and for the sacrament. Married couples should have recourse to the power of the Sacrament when difficulties arise. Every priest understands that his Ordination conferred upon him various powers to heal and be healed, to loose and to bind, to consecrate and to offer sacrifice. No matter what difficulties arise these powers are h is and as he becomes more and more aware of these God-given powers, his faith increases for God is working through him. He is living the Sacrament of Ordination. Everything he does increases the image of Jesus in his soul. He is God's instrument, His ambassador to the world. It is so with Matrimony. There is hidden within this everyday living Sacrament a special power. This power enables two people to live lovingly together, to bring into this world other human beings made to God's Image. As the priest, through the power of his Ordination, offers a piece of bread and says, "This is My Body," so a married couple, through the power of their Living Sacrament, look at a child, the fruit of love, and say "This is our body—this is His Temple."
There should be in the life of every married couple a continual building of the Sacrament. Since a sacrament brings God's Presence to us in a special way, this Presence in their Sacrament should be an ongoing living experience. They should daily place themselves in this awesome Presence by placing themselves before God in a daily encounter of love and need. If a married couple would begin their day hand in hand and silently place themselves before His Presence, become aware of that Presence around them and within them, absorb the beautiful qualities of God that they feel in need of, ask His blessing on their new day and then make the sign of the cross on each other's forehead as a sign of anointing—that day would begin in His Love, and that love, stronger than death, would hold them up no matter what happened.
Prayer and the Presence of God are necessary for the fruitful living of every state in life, but how much more in those states that are themselves a Sacrament! When we begin to live in the shadow of our own presence, our world gets smaller, our views narrow, and our attitudes intensely self-centered. Everything and everyone around us jars our nerves and sets our teeth on edge. It isn't always this way because life is impossible, but because our attitudes and selfishness narrow our perspectives, and our pain is concentrated in the small area of our own private world. That intensity makes life unbearable, the future bleak and the past a total failure. Any couple with these attitudes cannot see good in anything that happens to them, much less anything good in each other. Excuses for hatred, adultery, coldness and indifference abound and are rationalized because the misery they feel seems so real and unavoidable. The truth is that it Is real, but it is something that can be avoided and used as rungs on the ladder of holiness.
Once we realize that human frailties give us opportunities to choose between acting like ourselves or acting like Jesus in any given situation, we begin to see the necessity of responding with love instead of reacting with uncontrolled anger.
The virtues of patience, love, gentleness, fortitude, faithfulness, trust and self-control are not easy to acquire except through the power of the Spirit living in us. These are "decision" virtues—products of our will choosing to be the opposite of any bad feeling welling up within us. When we must fight against the evil tendencies within us on a daily basis, our souls become weary of the effort, our will lags and our determination weakens. Perseverance becomes difficult and the reality of this struggle going on for years paralyzes our soul into spiritual inertia.
How can a soul reach for peace and joy and everything it longs to be unless that soul places itself within the Presence that ever surrounds and penetrates its being? To consistently be unaware of that Presence is to be a cube of ice in the midst of a fire. Once the soul yields itself to that Presence as one who is in need of everything, it begins to absorb the beautiful qualities of that Divine Presence. Faults, weaknesses and temperament clashes begin to melt away. Root causes become exposed and are cut away, leaving room for new healthy growth.
In every Sacrament there is the Presence of God. This Living Sacrament of Matrimony must find its source in the fountain of Living Water, the Divine Presence, if it is to manifest that Presence to the world. A couple, in Jesus, is a real witness of the power of God in our midst. It is a concrete example of the life of the Trinity.
Like the Eternal Father a man is the head of the family unit. He is that family's protector and provider. He has within him the seed of life. His obligations to his family require that he both give and receive. As he cooperates with the Father he exercises the power within him to bring new life into the world. He takes the spiritual elements of that life and guides it by word and deed back to the Father of all. He is to be compassionate, merciful and understanding. The lives under his care are to be led, not pushed into the Kingdom. His protection is to be tempered by his discernment so those under his care can blossom slowly and take on the full flavor of holiness. He is to correct with gentleness, measuring punishment with the rod of compassion and not personal anger. His attitudes towards his partner should be that of a "helpmate." The book of Genesis tells us that God said it was not good for man to live alone and so He gave him a "helpmate"—someone in whom he could confide—help him make decisions—comfort him—love him and be as one with him. There is no question of one being superior and the other inferior—it is the harmony of two individuals living as one and performing their different roles as one. These roles dovetail and are only complete when both are faithful to the part given them by the Father. These roles cannot be exchanged, because neither possesses the qualities, dispositions, power or temperament of the other. Each possesses those special qualities given by God to perform their specific role of building each other into that one temple from which the Lord God reigns.
The woman is a gentle, loving bond who encourages, consoles, builds, reconciles and makes all things new and vibrant. The woman is strength in time of suffering, courageous in failure, intuitive in time of danger. A woman is ingenuous when all fails, resourceful in times of want, and a true helpmate for man.
A man is strong in body, keen in mind, practical and inventive. He is protective and comforting, full of assurance, confidence and self-knowledge with special abilities to provide and care for his family. A man needs someone to appreciate his ability, to listen and to hear. How lonely he would be without those special qualities his helpmate, woman gives him.
We can see that since God has designed matrimony as a Sacrament, those who are joined together possess unique, personal qualities that each should share and help transform to supernatural levels in each other. That invisible Presence that binds them together must become visible by their love for each other, their family life, their growth in holiness, their concern for the needs of others, their faithfulness and their perseverance in daily good.
The Trinity that keeps their love for each other growing, begins to manifest each of the Divine Persons in the family unit. The Eternal Father is manifested in the growing qualities of compassion and mercy as man slowly absorbs the qualities of gentleness and understanding visible in the woman. Jesus is manifested in the growing qualities of humility and meekness as woman slowly absorbs the qualities of strength and self-knowledge in man. Their growing love for each other produces images of themselves in children and this completes the family circle—the visible sign of the invisible Trinity.
The knowledge the Eternal Father has of Himself is the Son and the love that proceeds from both is the Holy Spirit. In turn, in the family unit man manifests the qualities of the Father and woman the qualities of Jesus. Children, proceeding from love, manifest the Spirit. Each are distinct though all are one. Each have qualities of soul the other needs. Each share in each other's qualities and so become more transformed into their model—the Eternal Trinity.
Though those living this Sacrament may fall short, let them always have in their mind the heights of their vocation—the call to holiness and the designs of the Father as He joined them together and made them one.
The children of such a couple become a source of love and fulfillment. They have the power to bring out of father and mother hidden qualities that would never manifest themselves without them. Parents exercise their roles in a higher degree as they form, educate and teach their children. The compassion and understanding of the father grows in degree and quality as opportunities present themselves. A woman becomes a bond of unity and a means of reconciliation. She begins to practice those inner qualities of kindness and love never before manifested. A new spirit of sacrifice issues forth as her role in the family is enhanced. In mutually giving themselves to the fruit of their love, that love grows. Love increases when pain and sacrifice, cheerfully accepted, is borne with faith and hope. Any kind of selfishness that would manifest itself at this point in a couple's life would warp their marriage, decrease their love for each other, and create tension. When possessions and pleasure take the place of children, the fire of love grows cold. Love begets love and when love is prevented from giving of itself, human nature takes over and living becomes an endurance test—a wild chase after fleeting pleasures—pleasures that merely distract from one's obligations and duties in this state of life.
Since Matrimony is a sacrament from which the couple receive the very source of love—God, it cannot be a living sacrament If love is deliberately cut off. Only the binding aspect of the sacrament remains and such a couple soon begins to feel only the tight pressure of those indissoluble ropes. Deliberate decisions to be selfish in any state of life, be it married, single or religious, brings havoc. Though the single life or religious life are not sacraments in themselves, those in these states receive other sacraments and the principles of living applied to matrimony applies equally to these other states.
Our entire life was created by Love so we might choose to be love. Faith and Hope build love and If we allow those virtues to lessen by selfish choices, we remove ourselves from the source of all warmth, goodness, kindness and joy. Instead of seeing God's hand in the present moment, we see only people and things, and Faith lessens. Instead of watching God bring good out of all our pain, frustration and heartache, we see only evil intentions and we lose Hope and Joy. In this type of atmosphere it is difficult, if not impossible, for love to grow.
To insure ourselves of this growth the frequent reception of the Eucharist—the Real Presence of Love—and the healing Sacrament of Reconciliation are indispensable. Without Him we cannot ascend the heights of holiness. Without the healing balm of Absolution we cannot maintain a consistent thrust toward virtue and goodness.
If these two Sacraments, Eucharist and Reconciliation, are an integral part of the lives of a married couple, the Sacrament of Matrimony that they possess will make of them a Host—one body united to His Body—one Love united to His Love—one in mutual forgiveness as they are the recipients of His forgiveness. Their Sacrament will be living and feeding on the never ending source of love—God.
The Sacrament of Matrimony
Marriage Is Bigger Than We Are
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